The actor explores the healing properties of the waters at Lourdes.
Zac Efron, star of High School Musical, has a new show on Netflix, Down to Earth with Zac Efron, in which the celebrity host travels the world with “wellness guru” Darin Olien in order to explore different perspectives and themes of travel, life experience, nature, green energy and sustainable living practices.
In their second episode, which focuses on water, they bring viewers on a tour of France that included a brief visit to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. The move to a famous Catholic site was a surprising turn for Efron, who shared in a 2007 interview with Rolling Stone that he was raised agnostic. Regardless of his background, the celebrity personality seemed to keep an open mind during his time at Lourdes, and he showed respect for Catholic beliefs.
The episode opens with a brief clip of Efron and Olien speaking with Dr. Alessandro de Franciscis, a medical doctor who works at the Lourdes Sanctuary to examine possible miracles and rule out medically explainable recoveries. They return to the meeting in the latter half of the episode, where Dr. Franciscis takes them through an example of a genuine miraculous recovery, which occurred after the patient bathed in the waters at Lourdes.
Efron narrates the story of how Lourdes came to be such an important Catholic site, stating:
“As the story goes, in 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl here in Lourdes. The young girl, Bernadette, was instructed by the apparition to uncover a natural spring and to drink and bathe from the water. Bernadette’s furious digging into the mud led the townspeople to think she was mad. Yet, when water eventually began to flow, her vision was determined to be real, and thus, a miracle. To this day, that water continues to flow from the spring, and thousands have claimed miraculous healing as a result of drinking and bathing in it.”
Efron and Olien are awed by x-ray images from a mid 20th-century case where a cancer patient’s hip was miraculously reconstructed after spending time submersed in the sanctuary’s spring. The doctor explained to them that there are seven criteria that must be met in order for a miracle to be confirmed:
- Doctors must have previously confirmed the presence of the illness in a full diagnosis.
- The illness must be severe.
- The illness unexpectedly disappears
- The cure is instantaneous
- The cure is complete
- The illness does not return
- No medical explanations can be found
Dr. Franciscis went on to note that because it must be shown that the illness has not returned, case files are not even considered for the first decade after the healing. In a voice-over, Efron narrated that of the 7,400 claims submitted in the last 135 years, only 70 of them have been recognized as genuine miracles.
Once they had learned the scientific aspects of the confirming miracles, Efron and Olien visited the actual shrine, where they met Lourdes chaplain Fr. Jim Phalan, CSC. Fr. Phalan takes the pair on a brief tour of the Sanctuary, where a priest can be seen ministering to the lines of faithful who have gathered to seek healing from their waters.
It was in this segment that Efron had an encounter with prayer. Although the host admits he is not very religious, he seems to be touched by the process of lighting a candle, and respectfully muses:
“Prayer means different things to different people, but what I found, is that sometimes just taking the time to ask, it can help bring peace. I don’t expect everything I pray for to be answered, but sometimes taking the time to ask is comforting in itself.”
The episode goes on to show Efron attending a candlelight vigil at the Sanctuary, when he comments:
“Whether or not you believe in the power of prayer, when you witness thousands of people at a candlelight vigil like this, there’s no denying the energy. My thoughts are almost in a pure, meditative state. And I feel like I’m a part of something much greater than myself.”
While the show is by no means explicitly Catholic, and the episode does drag a little while he’s exploring the carbonated fountains of Paris, it does give a fair albeit secular glimpse of this important Catholic site. It is undeniable that the experience of prayer moved the actor. as he states:
“I definitely believe there’s some kind of power in group prayer. All of these people coming together for prayer, creating one massive force. Does it work? I don’t know. But you can’t deny the extraordinary peace and beauty that is going on right here.”
There are currently eight episodes of Down to Earth with Zac Efron on Netflix, available to stream now.